Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Getting Dragged into the Past
Last night I was making a quickie food run for my son and myself, grabbing a few items from the local sandwich shop. As I was heading toward home, I got tired of listening to the latest Chicago White Sox spring training report, so I went to the FM dial and hit up the local oldies station. I began to hear the all-too-familiar beginning of Pure Prairie League's Amie. The song is ingrained in my brain from a long-ago party and a long-ago girlfriend. Suddenly, I was back in 1980 and 1981.

I had just received my bachelor's degree in Psychology and was looking forward to graduate school. After all, Illinois State University had given me an assistantship -- meaning that I would get free tuition and have a job working for the Psychology Department. It was the beginning of the Reagan era, and a nice, conservative guy like me was right in the mainstream.

When I started grad school, however, I was a fish out of water, plunked right into the middle of an ultra-liberal department that had no use for traditional conservative values. I just didn't fit in, and really didn't have many friends in the department. I gutted it out through my first semester and didn't let my unhappiness get to me since I was busy driving around central Illinois giving intelligence tests to elementary, middle, and high school students, taking a full-time load of classes, and teaching an Intro to Psych class of 275 since the instructor, my boss, was in the hospital for several weeks.

When the second semester came, however, I was in a quandry. I didn't want to be in school there, yet didn't know what to do or where to go. Returning home and feeling like a failure was not an option. So ... I did nothing for several weeks. I was planning on dropping out and was therefore unmotivated to do any school work. And then I met her ...

Dee was a sophomore and was a member of a campus service club to which I belonged. She was attractive and had an air of excitement about her -- a great combination. We started going out, and suddenly I had a reason to stay in grad school. But yikes -- I was about five weeks behind in my work and had a huge test coming up. I was stressed to the max and received help from one of the instructors I knew, learning enough about self-hypnosis in a short time to convince myself to do a 15-hour cram session with only a ten-minute break. I passed my big test with a B, and suddenly things were not as desperate as they had been.

The dissonance between myself and my colleagues, however, continued to wear on me, and I probably seemed like this very needy dude to Dee. I had always been a cocky guy, so this feeling of a little neediness was new to me. I'm sure she felt it, and always seemed to keep a little distance from me emotionally.

I felt like I wasn't getting enough out of the relationship, and actually decided to go all in (the only poker content in this story!) and tell her that I needed our relationship to grow or else I'd have to bail. Unbelieveably, she agreed with me. I hit the heart I needed on the river!

Unfortunately, this relationship was destined for failure since Dee's father had just accepted a job several hundred miles away, and Dee would be moving with the family after the spring semester was over. Having had some experience with long-distance relationships, I knew this one was was doomed.

Unfortunately, when Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise in "Cocktail") said "All things end badly, or else they wouldn't end", he was right. I won't go into all the details, but the end was just plain sad. She moved away, and I was heartbroken. Girls who went out with me over the next six months probably remember me as the biggest asshole they ever dated. And they were probably accurate in their assessment.

Skip to 1983. I was in the first year of my first professional job. I had heard that Dee moved back in state and was attending the University of Illinois. I had to be there for a conference on a Friday in February, and I even looked up her number and address in a phone book while on campus that day. I decided not to call, but thought that I would put myself in fate's hands. I walked the quad at lunch and figured that if I was meant to run into her, I would. Mind you , this was a campus of 35,000 students!

Believe it or not, in a moment straight out of Dan Fogelberg's Same Old Lang Syne, I ran into her. The girl who swore her career was so important to her that she would never get married early was engaged. Fortunately for me, the woman I was dating at that time eventually became my wife, so I was not shattered by the news. It was, however, a feeling of melancholy I will never forget.

Even now, in 2008, whenever I hear Amie on the radio, all those feelings come flooding back. Fogelberg captured the moment beautifully:

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain...

I pulled into my driveway, grabbed the food, and went inside my house. I didn't really feel like eating my Greek salad. I decided to play in the MATH tournament, letting poker soothe a soul that had been bruised so many years ago ...


Blogger Mondogarage said...

Illinois State, huh? Small world. One of my wife's best friends was their women's basketball head coach until about two years ago.

Anyhoo, very cool story, very cool. Remember, it's not who you start out with, but whom you end up with, that counts. :-)

4:56 PM  

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